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Owner wants to change New Berlin residential development to commercial

Cargo expansion seen as better fit for the 287-acre tract


By DAVID HUNT, The Times-Union


A Jacksonville developer is scrapping plans for a 650-unit residential neighborhood in favor of selling the land as a 287-acre commerce center in the Northside.

"We concluded there was a higher and better use for this land," said F. Logan Holz, senior vice president of Stokes Land Group, which has owned the property for more than three years. "This economy is struggling. We need to all be thinking what we can do to create jobs."

Holz said housing market woes and Jacksonville's projected cargo shipping boom led his company back to the drawing board. He said plans are coming together to sell the land to Atlanta-based developer Taylor & Mathis, but he declined to talk about a price with the sale pending.

Hamilton Reynolds, Taylor & Mathis' industrial division president, said construction on the Alta Lakes Commerce Park could begin in late summer or early fall. The first phase would put up two buildings - one 150,000 square feet; the other, 180,000 - within a year. A full build-out of the 2.2-million-square-foot light industrial park - about the size of two St. Johns Town Centers - is expected in five to seven years, he said.

The number of potential jobs and the type of tenants at the site have not been determined. Warehousing and importing operations are likely options, he said.

"I can't tell you with certainty who it would be, but we're expecting it will be someone doing business with the port," Reynolds said.

The site, near Florida 9A and New Berlin Road, is about 2 miles from the TraPac terminal under construction at Dames Point. That terminal is expected to open within the next year as part of a deal between Jacksonville Port Authority and Japan-based Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd. The terminal is expected to double container cargo received at and sent from Jacksonville's deepwater ports.

A pending deal with Korean shipping company Hanjin could triple container traffic within the next five years, port officials say.

Holz said a half dozen developers had inquired about buying the land for port-related projects before Stokes Land Group decided to sell to Taylor & Mathis. The sale, he said, is contingent on city zoning approval for light industrial uses.

The commerce center would be joining a cluster of planned and existing industrial lands in the area, such as NorthPoint and Stone Mountain.

He said he expects some opposition from the community as the rezoning process continues.

He said traffic is one of the greater concerns, but argues the trucks coming in and out of the commerce center likely would be half of the number of vehicles traveling through the residential development originally planned.

Also, the residential development would have put a burden on schools in the area.

"We do have a few people who aren't thrilled about what we're doing, but we're trying to do the right thing," Holz said.

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Revised: February 10, 2010 .

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